On Monday afternoon this week Conquista (along with the rest of the world’s cycling media) received an email from the CPA, the organisation which supposedly represents the interests of professional riders. Here it is:
PRESS RELEASE OF THE CPA Milan 15/02/2016
Taking a cue from the recent statements of Christian Prudhomme, the CPA (Cyclistes Professionnels Associés) strongly condemns those who make use of tricks such as electric bikes to take advantage during a race.
“It is out of discussion that whoever is cheating during competition must be heavily punished – declaired Gianni Bugno, president of the CPA – . The riders are all in favor of this and they are the first ones to show interest to unmask those who act unfairly, whether they are riders, mechanicals, or other team members. We are convinced that the UCI is doing its best to improve and refine the controls and we hope there will be a progress, with the cooperation of manufacturers, in order to remove any doubt about the athletes' performances. We, too, within our association, are looking for solutions to make controls the most precise and quick as possible and we know we can count on the full cooperation of the riders. I do not agree to point the finger at the peloton every time that something that puts a bad light on our sport happens. That is the reason I did not want to join the chorus of those who have launched accusations without proposing solutions to the problem. Indeed, I do not think even we could define this a real problem because it is far away from touching the honest riders that fight daily with their opponents in a sporty way..”
There is something very odd about this statement. And it isn’t just the barely comprehensible English (couldn’t they find a native speaker, just to cast an eye over it?), or the bizarre “logic” (“we approve of UCI testing for motorized cheats, but there is no such cheating and riders shouldn’t be accused of it”).
No, the really odd thing about this statement is its timing: and not only because it arrived on Monday afternoon accompanied by the words “Good evening, please find enclosed a press release of the CPA. Thank you, have a nice week-end!”
One might think that the catalyst for this press release was the now-notorious discovery at the UCI World Cyclo-cross Championships of a motor in a bicycle linked to Femke van den Driessche. But here’s the funny thing. The offending bicycle was discovered on 30th January. This press release was issued on 15th February. So why has it taken over two weeks for the CPA to issue this short & simple statement?
And that’s not all. There is another reason why the timing is peculiar. Here is part of the CPA’s mission statement, taken from its website:
“The CPA’s main objective is that of protecting and improving the position of riders by:
- [playing] an active part . . . in the works and decisions made by the UCI [ . . .]
- contributing to spreading a better image of the anti-doping fight. [ . . . ]
- establishing reliable work relations between riders and their employers [ . . . ]
- improving the relations between riders and all the stakeholders of the cycling world
- defending their rights before institutions when practicing their profession.”
Now, even by the standards of cycling - always a poorly organised sport - the first six weeks of 2016 have presented a rich crop of threats to the rights, results and personal safety of professional cyclists. Yet the CPA has apparently done exactly nothing to “protect and improve the position of riders”. Let’s recap:
Stage 2 of the Dubai Tour turned out to be 5km shorter than suggested by the roadbook. The decision to reduce its length was announced on the morning of the stage, and the new finish was located only 1km after the end of a tunnel. On emerging from the tunnel, thanks to the complete change of light, wind and road conditions just as they were raising the pace and trying to get their sprint trains organised, many riders crashed. Presumably this dangerous change to the route was agreed between the organisers and UCI.
Did the CPA “play an active part” in any UCI decision to approve the route change? If not, or if the UCI didn't even approve the changes, did the CPA “defend riders’ rights before institutions”, i.e., either the UCI or the organisers?
Tour of Qatar
Etixx Quickstep (in their various incarnations) have won the Tour of Qatar eight times in the last ten years. However, they were not invited to participate in 2016’s edition. Sheikh Khalid Bin Ali Al Thani, President of the Qatar Cycling Federation, explained that the organisers had not invited Quickstep because in past years they had experienced a “problem with discipline”. In particular, the team were frequently late arriving for podium ceremonies. “They’d take too much time changing their shoes, laying around, and then meeting the press while keeping us waiting. They can’t do that.”
Did the CPA intervene, either “to improve relations between cyclists and stakeholders”, i.e.. the race organisers, or to “defend riders rights (i.e., the right to compete in a UCI-sanctioned event) before institutions (i.e., the organisers)”?
The bunch sprints of Stages 1 & 5 ended on a bend in the road. This is obviously dangerous, as anyone taking the shortest (i.e., straight) line to the finish will inevitably cross in front of other riders (as Mark Cavendish arguably did in winning Stage 1).
Where was the CPA to “defend riders’ rights” to a safe parcours?
More seriously, Stage 2’s sprint climaxed on a stretch of road with a raised central reservation and a line of bollards. No marshal was present to prevent part of the field ending up on the wrong side of the road. These arrangements were (correctly) described by Dimension Data’s Matt Brammeier as “taking the piss”. Sure enough, a spectacular crash ensued, with Barry Markus of Roompot Oranje-Peloton suffering a broken collarbone.
Again, did the CPA “defend riders’ rights” to a safe parcours, or “play an active part” in the decision - presumably sanctioned by the UCI - to finish the stage on this unsuitable & unmarshalled stretch of road?
Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana.
Like Stage 2 of the Dubai Tour, the final stage of the VCV was also cut short, but this time by the rather more material matter of around 20km. The race had been scheduled to include 10 laps of a circuit in the centre of Valencia, but on the day the organisers decided to reduce this to 6 laps, seemingly because of a clash with a football match being played in the same city. Presumably the teams had chosen their personnel & planned their strategy on the basis of the full 10 laps. Unsurprisingly, then, the break was able to stay away, and the expected bunch sprint never materialised.
Did the CPA speak up for the teams & riders whose planning & training for this event were rendered pointless?
Katusha’s riders have produced two positive drug tests within a 12 month period, meaning that - according to the UCI’s own rules - the team should be suspended from competition for a period of between 15 and 45 days. However, the UCI has announced that the team will not be suspended because Luca Paolini’s 2015 positive for cocaine was “not related to an intention to influence sporting performance but was rather taken on a ‘recreational’ basis” - despite the fact that cocaine is banned by the UCI as a stimulant, and it has long been policy that the rider is responsible for what is in his body, whatever the reason for its presence.
Given the CPA’s commitment to “spreading a better image of the anti-doping fight” one would have expected some comment on this patently preposterous decision. Where is it?
Given that the CPA watched all these appalling infringements of riders’ rights without comment, why were they suddenly moved to comment specifically on checks for motorized bicycles a full two weeks after such a bicycle was found? What gives?
A clue surely lies in the press release’s reference to Christian Prudhomme, director of the Tour de France and employee of race organisers ASO. Followers of the interminable arguments between ASO & the UCI will be aware that the two sides have recently been at daggers drawn over the UCI’s proposals for changes to the structure of the sport, designed to give WorldTour teams greater financial stability - for example, by giving them licences valid for three years rather than just one year at a time. But ASO rejects the UCI’s proposals. So, ASO has announced that from 2017 it will be withdrawing from the UCI WorldTour all its races - that is, essentially all the ones that count, from the Tour de France down. To cut a long story short, the effect will be that invitations to ASO’s races, including the Tour, will be entirely at ASO’s discretion. But for the teams the Tour is the crucial shop window: teams are wholly financially dependent on their sponsors, and sponsors won’t pay up if their team won’t be at the Tour, since this is the only race most of their potential customers see.
So now the teams are in an even worse position than before: at least they used to be confident they would be at the Tour, but - thanks to the UCI’s intervention - not any more. So, unless they are invited, they face losing their sponsors and going out of business. And the UCI looks inept & impotent to the point of complete irrelevance.
However, last Friday, Tour de France director Christian Prudhomme announced that the biggest issue between ASO & the UCI was not financial stability, but rather that of testing for electric motors. And if you go back and read the CPA statement carefully, it is clear that it is Prudhomme’s comments of last Friday, and not the actual discovery of an electric bicycle at the Worlds, that the press release is reacting to.
On the same day - quelle coïncidence! - the UCI announced that it had checked 90 bicycles for motors at a minor French stage race known as La Méditerranéenne. These tests were carried out using the UCI’s new technology, involving a sensor in a tablet. And it is this new test that the CPA approves of, since it is, in their timeless formulation, “the most precise and quick as possible” - at least compared with the old method, which required removing the crankset from the frame. And - mirabile dictu! - we know the UCI’s new method works, since it was (apparently) used to identify Femke van den Driessche’s offending machine.
So in other words, out of utter discord we now have a topic on which all parties - the UCI, ASO and the riders, through their “representatives” at CPA - can agree. In a nutshell, the discussion has proceeded as follows:
- ASO: Motorized bikes are cheating! We must have a test for them! Nothing else matters!
- UCI: Look! We have a test! And it works! Everything is under control. Everything.
- CPA: We the riders like the UCI’s test, even though we don’t need to be tested because we’re not cheats and so the test is completely unnecessary!
Anyone in possession of a suspicious mind might marvel at this sudden alignment of all parties behind a single, clearly defined and uncontroversial issue. So, one might ask, will ASO now announce that - since the UCI has satisfactorily addressed the issue of electric motors - all its major races, Tour included, will form part of 2017’s WorldTour after all, with all that silly business about team financial stability quietly forgotten? In other words, is this whole issue of developing a test for electric motors just a way for the UCI to save some face while in fact buckling to ASO? And does the urgent need to curry favour with ASO also explain the CPA's suddenly falling over themselves to agree with Prudhomme - closely followed by (among others) FDJ boss Marc Madiot and the French League of Professional Cyclists?
There is a deeper question here too. In a sense it is unfair to single out the CPA. There are lots of other bodies representing teams and riders which are equally ineffectual. There is Velon, there is the MPCC, there is the European Union of Cycling, and there are others besides. What are they all for? Where are they when the teams and riders actually need representation? And, above all, when are they going to address the two biggest issues the teams & riders face - namely, their appallingly weak negotiating position vis-à-vis ASO, and the consistent & complete failure of the UCI to take their interests into account?